Written and Directed by: Kemal Yildirim
Starring: Alexander Bakshaev, Nadeem Choudhry, and Julie Gilmour
Reviewed by: Brett G.
Grim Stories of Curses, Horror, and Gore
Anthology films have always been a natural fit for the horror genre; after all, who didn’t hear a scary story or two when they were growing up? Perhaps it was around a campfire, or maybe it was in the comfort of your own home--regardless of the setting, scary stories are perhaps the most primal of all horror experiences. And what better night to gather and tell tales of the macabre than on Halloween night? If you’ve been paying attention at all to my picks for our annual Halloween picks for the past few years, you know I’m a sucker for such a combination, which puts Tales of the Dead right up my demented alley.
A group of friends gather for an annual Halloween night celebration that’s full of pranks and storytelling. Each of the friends has brought a story in the form of a short film that they’ll show in the hopes of scaring each other silly. The first story, “Less is More” features a woman plagued by “Body Integrity Identity Disorder” and is obsessed with becoming an amputee. “Wolf Cry” finds a 19-year-old boy who is obsessed with horror films, and he soon finds his obsessions coming to life. “Penance” details the exploits of a sadistic serial killer and the obsessed cop who will stop at nothing to stop him. Finally, “Missing” is a bit of “found footage” that finds a group of people investigating a haunted street that was cursed by a coven of witches.
Tales of the Dead is really more aptly described as a collection of short films by Yildirim, as each of the segments actually comes complete with title and credit sequences. As such, don’t expect any sort of narrative through-line or connection between the stories; of course, this is hardly a knock, as many anthologies have taken this route. Instead, it really is the equivalent of seeing a bunch of friends showing each other some scary stories on Halloween night. It’s not a technically brilliant film, but it makes up for this with an obvious enthusiasm for the genre. There’s references strewn throughout, from the names of the characters (George, Lucio, Ruggero, etc.) to visual references to other horror films. The Halloween setting is also used well enough, as a pre-credits trick or treat sequence establishes the proper mood; the rest of the film features the typical pranks and other imagery associated with the holiday.
The stories themselves are an eclectic bunch; there’s everything from zombies to serial killers, and a little bit of everything in between. The most accomplished is the opening tale, which manages to take a bizarre, interesting concept (a woman who willingly wants to become an amputee) down some interesting and dark narrative paths. It’s the one story of the bunch that feels complete; the rest suffer from feeling a bit truncated. This is particularly true of the final tale, which takes the approach of films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity; however, if you thought either of those films took a “less is more” approach that left a lot to the imagination, this sequence will likely frustrate you. The characters claim to see and hear plenty of weird, spooky things, but you’ll have to take their word for it.
The third short, “Penance,” suffers a similar fate, as it attempts to mimic 70s and 80s giallo films (it’s even introduced by a character as being a “throwback to all those slasher movies” and features a character named Argento). Of course, trying to cram a giallo’s worth of plot into a 15 minute short is an obvious folly, and it doesn’t quite work and leaves one wanting more. There is a nice, well-done murder sequence to open things, but it can’t keep the momentum. This is indicative of Tales of the Dead as a whole, as there’s no doubt a few moments strewn in here and there that are visually well-done, particularly from a horror stand-point. The problem is that you’ve got to wade through a lot of mediocrity to get to them.
Still, despite the low budget, the film manages to be generally entertaining enough; if anything, each story has a fairly interesting concept. Had the overall execution been able to match the potential, Tales of the Dead could have been a fine anthology. As it stands, it just feels like an excuse to collect a few short films into one package. Chemical Burn Entertainment is the one wrapping it all up with a DVD release that leaves a bit to be desired; my chief concern is that the transfer doesn’t handle the shifting aspect ratios well. Some segments feature an image that’s been squeezed into a 4:3 frame, while others properly letterbox the material. The soundtrack is fine, as everything is rendered clearly (though the British accents take a bit of effort to understand at times). Overall, I would say this one is just for anthology junkies or anyone looking for a night of variety; Tales of the Dead will certainly deliver a wide range of material, even if it is all on a pretty mediocre wavelength. Rent it!
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